In "Ask The Equinist", blog readers are invited to submit their questions, and I will do my best to provide a well-researched answer. Here is the latest reader query:
Question: In all of your research, have you come across anything useful for sweet itch? My Welsh Cob has it and generally tries to rub all the hair off his belly. Last year we kept it managed really well by just spraying him with a good fly spray in the evening. This year, even though we are doing this he is already rubbing his belly. I bought a Boett blanket but it is just too heavy to keep on him -- any ideas?
Jill A. in BC
Answer: Hi Jill. Sweet itch is the common name for hypersensitivity to the bites of Culicoides midges. Horses affected by this problem can do themselves serious harm by rubbing incessantly to try to rid themselves of the terrible itching caused by these tiny "no see ums". As you have discovered, the belly is the most common site of attack, though people may see their horse rubbing its mane or tail.
Unfortunately, there is presently no cure for this uncomfortable ailment, so dealing with it successfully requires a combination of preventative measures and treatment for symptoms. If using fly sprays and a good, midge-blocking sheet like the Boett isn't working (or even if it is), you may want to consider stabling the horse from dusk to dawn, as midges are most active during the transitions between light and dark.
In my personal experience, putting an ointment on the high-risk areas of the horse's body that will block and repel the midges, while also helping to soothe and heal the bites is a huge help. The best product I've found is made by my own vet, Dr. Jen Powers of Above and Beyond Animal Care in Palo Cedro, CA. It is a "pink goo" she calls RWD -- Repellent Wound Dressing, and from what I've seen it is quite unique and very effective. Dr. Jen's RWD has helped a lot of horses, including my morgan, who was rubbing his tail raw before I started using her concoction last summer. I just dabbed a little on every few days, and the problem completely disappeared.
The down side is that the goo itself doesn't disappear so easily: your horse will have pink spots that will indeed attract some dirt. However, I would personally much rather deal with the pink and a bit of dirt than have a horse that is being tortured by itching, rubbing off his beautiful hair, and making himself sore.
I know you don't live around here, but if you want to try this stuff, contact her office and get them to sell you some and pop it in the mail, which they have told me they would be happy to do. It is not overly expensive and a little goes a long way, so perhaps that is an option worth considering.
Please let us know how your pony does!
- Susan Kauffmann, aka "The Equinist"